1 September 2000

Cotswold brand name dispute

A SUCCESSFUL regional food initiative is on a collision course with an ancient sheep breed society which claims that its name is being used misleadingly.

The Cotswold Lamb brand proved a hit with consumers when it was launched this summer by Cotswold Sheep Group, which represents 120 farmers and has access to 180,000 lambs a year.

Paul Froehlich, the groups marketing manager, says he is struggling find enough lambs to meet requirements and is about to negotiate another price premium with a major supermarket.

The 37 Somerfield stores taking part in the promotion are buying 300 lambs a week. They reported a 41% rise in lamb sales between June and August compared with the same period last year.

But the Cotswold Lamb brand has not gone down so well with the Cotswold Sheep Society. Chairman Thomas Jackson claims that shoppers believe they are buying lamb from the pedigree breed when in fact they are getting no specific breed from the Cotswolds.

Mr Jackson said Somerfield customers were "surprised and disappointed that they have been misled by point-of-sale material" and that store staff had assured them they were buying the pedigree breed.

But Mr Froehlich said the society was flattering itself if it thought he was trying to pass off Cotswold Lamb as their breed. He dismissed the society, which has 100-200 members with 980 ewes, as hobbyists with little commercial interest who are intent on wrecking a lucrative market for farmers.

"We have been pushing at this door and have finally got it open. Now a group of part-time fanatics are trying to slam it shut again."

However, Mr Jackson added: "Mr Froehlich was advised of the problems with the name before the launch, but decided to ignore it."

The spat is complicated by the fact that Mr Froehlich is a member of the society and stood down as chairman over the issue. Mr Jackson is adamant the society will not stand down over the name, but is hopeful the issue can be resolved without resorting to legal action.

A Somerfield spokesman said the Cotswold Sheep Group offered an outstanding model for farmers trying to establish a regional brand which local consumers could identify and support.

In-store information always made it clear the Cotswold name applied to the area and not a breed. Specially qualified butchers briefed other staff on this, he added.

Somerfield insisted that, despite the controversy surrounding Cotswold Lamb, it would not pull out of the project, said the spokesman. "We are not going to abandon the scheme. Cotswold Lamb makes good business sense, as the product is very marketable and is what the customer wants."